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Two Russian Jews
Doing family history research can at times be a daunting task. some of the things to keep in mind when attempting to learn about one's family is to exhaust every resource you can get your hands on.
Some of the resources we can look through are; government records, Church records, family bibles, pictures, maps, and most importantly other family members. It goes without saying that your elders know 100% more about their parents and grandparents than any form or record kept on file at the archive centers could possibly reveal. They are the key to filling in the huge gaps that are left out of the average birth, marriage, and death records in the vault.
Another resource is secular history. I use times and places in history which relate to the times and places which my ancestors lived in order to better understand what they went through, and why they ended up where they did. It is important to use as much as possible in order not to make wrong assumptions about who, what, and where people were. Through my own research there have been several bumps in the road as well as dead ends. I however never intend to give up in my ongoing search for knowledge on the family tree. I will use the example of two of my relatives who I have had a tough time tracking through history.
Events in Russia
Nikolay Alexandrovich Romanov, or Nicholas the 2nd, was the last Czar of Russia. As the last Emporer in the Russian territories he claimed ownership over a vast expanse of the Eastern European countries, including Russia, Finland, and Poland. Unfortunatwly his reign was an unpopular one as he made several blunders and lost a major war against the Japanese. As the russian empire began to spiral down into an economic recession the people looked to the Jews as a scape goat for their problems.
One of the events leading up to an anti Semetic uprising known as Pogrom, was the assasination of Czar Alexander II, Nicholai's grandfather. Alexander was heavily influenced by an anti-semetic leader of the Orthodox Russian Church named Konstantin Petrovich Pobyedonostsyev. After his assasination For several decades his son imposed a temporary law called the "May laws", that encroached multiple restrictions on the average Jew in order to keep them in destitute conditions. they were prohibited from entering political offices, and only a small portion of the people were allowed to attend school. Most Jews were not allowed to enter major cities and were restricted to poverty stricken areas known as Shtetyls. They were also forbidden from doing any kind of business during Christian holidays. Alexander was assasinated by another faction, but the blame was placed on Jews. This lead to the begining of multiple mass murders for several generations.
Around the year 1873 Solomon Kam was born in a Shtetl called Botchki (Translation; Little Barrel.) This small village in Russian occupied Poland felt few effects from the violence that was occurring in the country against the Jews partially from the scare of highway robbers that riddled the area.
The poverty however did affect them quite profoundly. My distant cousin in south Africa recounts;
"Grandfather Solomon told my father that when he first left the village and saw for the very first time, the most amazing , outlandishly to him, ultra extravagant sight of a person eating a slice of cake that was not put between two slices of bread to make it go much further, his shock stood him rooted in mid stride utterly amazed at the waste and could not easily comprehend it, or get over it! That's poverty for you, may we never know of such!!!Also in the greatly recommended book "Botchki" when doomsday was still tomorrow" , you will read that some of the village could not even afford the, (rossel, translation preserving saline sauce') that soaks , fills, and surrounds the salt herrings in the barrels. Just to dip their boiled potatoes into it. Not even thinking of being able to afford the actual herrings. That's poverty for you, may we never know of such!!!"
In the year 1885 Solomon's brother Barnett was born. It is speculative that the brothers might have had other siblings due to the nearly 11 year age difference between the two. My father recounts the fact that he was to be named after Barnett's brother Michael but amid family confusion ended up with the name David. Along with the fact that there are other members of the immediate family who possess the name Michael, I believe that this person might possibly have existed, however there is no evidence on paper to support that claim that has yet surfaced. though it is unclear as to the exact point in their lives when the two brother's parents passed away and for what reason, it is note worthy to say that Barnett spent enough time in an orphanage ran by Rabais to consider himself a "Cohen" by surname. This was a common name to use in the days of imperialist Russia due to the fact that a mandatory military obligation was dealt out to all citizens of the state with the exception of religious leaders. Thus in the Jewish faith a person who possessed the name "Cohen" was exempt from service.
The story for the older brother Solomon was unfortunately different and he did join. Now because the patronic naming system was used by the Jewish populous it caused there to be multiple redundancies in the naming of children, the Russian military's resolution, as most other militaries, was to hand out unique last names so that in the event that a person should be mortally wounded in action the remains of the soldier would be sent to the right family without worrying about getting names mixed up.
It is not specified to me when exactly the family received the Name but the story goes that a soldier had approached the home to hand out a name. this soldier in particular had run out of names, and while talking to the family searching for a name to give out, a gust of wind blew his hair around. The man then pulled a Comb out of his pocket to straighten it, and in the German language stated that the family's last name would be "Kam" meaning comb.
Solomon served for four years in the military enlisted in the Borodino regiment. This regiment was named specifically after a severely bloddy battle which ensued in the year 1812 in an area called by the same name against the French.
Solomon was assigned by the military chief to reside in the village of Zamosk where little incident was recorded.
Just about the turn of the century when the pogrom movement was ascending to a high point of violence in the Polish region of Bialystok and it's surrounding Jewish towns the brothers Solomon and Barnett decided to flee the scene to England. As this is a silent period in their lives It isn't until 1911 when Barnett shows up on the census of England with his two year married spouse Edith, and their new daughter Milicent.
For Solomon however a certificate of marriage shows that he had left England and wound up married to Eda Saperstein in Cape Town, South Africa. This certificate indicates that in 1904 Solomon was already in South Africa, also the lack of evidence of the brothers being in England by the 1901 census indicates that he could have been there three or four years earlier, although it is difficult to say where either of them resided between 1897 and 1904 because neither of them have been found on the 1897 Russian census as of yet.
Stated on the military ID of Solomon Kam, discharge certificate dated 4 August 1897, his father's name is identified as - " Arono Mizelovich."
However on the marriage certificate of Barnett and Edith Simms, the name "Michael Cohen Simms" is given as Barnetts father. The surname name Cohen or "кагень" is an Eastern European form of the Jewish title for the office of priesthood. Because military service was required of most young men in the czarist ruled Russian federation, many Jewish people who normally went by a patronic surname system used the Cohen name to avoid otherwise mandatory military service, hence the name of Cohen is as common amongst Eastern European Jews as "Smith" in America and England.
The surname Mizleovich is a derivative of Michajlovich which is a Belorussian patronymic surname meaning "son of Michael." While Barnett's fabrication of the surname Simms was also used to avoid antisemitic persecution, it may bear a small truth that the first name "Michael" is a more valid name to the family as there were other children in the family given that name.
Solomon had a son named Michael, and Barnett's grandson, who was mistakenly named David by his grandmother Edith, was supposed to be named after an Uncle on his Mother's side named Michael.
It is possible that there are other unknown siblings of Solomon and Barnett since their age difference is is over 11 years.
The surname Kam which though noted on the marriage certificate of Barnett Cohen Simms, and Edith Beasant is in fact derived from a traditional military application. Due to the commonality of names which occurs from a wide spread usage of the patronymic naming system, the military would often hand out unique names to the individual entering the service. Thus in the event that a soldier is killed in the line of duty there would be less confusion when sorting out the bodies of the deceased and providing them to the original family. In the case of the surname "Kam" the story given is thus;
"On a certain day an officer came around our family's living area handing out family names as the custom was always prior to that , (and still to this day), [amongst the Jewish populous was patronymic in nature]. This was going to change the family name to Winkler if you were a shopkeeper, or Schneider if you were a tailor. Yet by the time that the officer came to our home he had run out of names and as the story tells, while talking a gust of wind blew his hair out of place, so he whipped out his comb and said, "Right, your name shall be Comb, (Translation; KAM) and so to the best of my knowledge it has ever been!!! aside; (his German was poor as it should have been spelt KAMM)
England to Canada
According to the united States immigration record of Barnett Simms Their son Hiliard, (Uncle Barney), was born in Foxton, England, which is most likely where this picture was taken because on the back it shows the names and ages of everyone in the picture. Barney was born on June 20 1913 and the back of the picture states that he was a 3 month old baby, so it is safe to say that it was taken in late September of early October.
The family previously lived in Woking where their daughter Millicent was born in 1910. It also shows on the records of Edith that she had another child Named Muriel (from a previous relationship), born in London on July 20, 1908. It is interesting to note that the birth date of Muriel is only two months before the marriage date (September 16, 1908), mentioned on Edith's naturalization record with Barnett.
The record states exactly where each individual was born. This is interesting to see as Barnett's brother was Born in the village of Botchki, and Barnett consistently on several records claims that he was born in Bialystok, Russia. All of the areas in which they were designated to live are a result of the Pale of settlement originally implemented by Catherine the great after her predecessors had failed to remove the Jews from Russia entirely.
1916 census of Canada
In the census of Canada it shows that the Simms family immigrated from England in 1911, just after the Uk census was taken. Unique information noted in this census shows that Edith is a protestant, and Barnett is Jewish. This wil later change as Edith converts to Judaism. This was an upset to Edith's daughter Muriel who eventually married a Baptist minister. The youngest daughter Rachel however also ended up marrying into a Christian household and eventually converted to Christianity.
Though diversity of religion has always been a subject for the family, Barnett was a very tolerant person and perhaps in a little laxness would purchase the family's annual "Haunnikah" bush during the holdiay season, and decorate it with lights and an angel on top.
His Brother Solomon on the other hand was motivated to riggorously debate religious doctrine with his friends and neighbors. He even owned a New Testament Bible written in Yiddish.
Asside from the declaration of intention another document which provides even more details is the petition for citizenship, which shows the previous and current residences of the family, date of arrival in the United States, names, birth dates, and birth places of every family member, whereas the declaration of intention only provides the information of the individual applicant.
It also shows the means by which the applicant entered the country. In this case the Simms family came from Vancouver B.C. and into Washington State by way of the Great Northern railway, and on to Los Angeles, California.
This manifest of passengers shows the age of Barnett and states that he intends to travel from Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada to Los Angeles, California. It also shows that his race is Hebrew, he is 34 years old, and he is a printer by occupation. There is a family story that Barnett inadvertently became employed by a Nazi sympathetic printing company and was actually driven to hide in the building's establishment until it was clear to escape. This drove Barnett to relocate the family to the United States and once again instilled a real fear of antisemitic hatred that he had previously experienced in Russia. Form that time forward the Simms family was secretive with the origins of their roots. There was even a time when his daughter Rachel needed to show proof of her citizenship to gain employment, and the family would argue constantly to get Barnett to allow anyone to see their records.
1930 US Census
During this ten years of life in Los Angeles The Simms family was paid a short visit by Barnett's brother Solomon Kam. On a post card with the two brothers picture on it, the back reads,
"Greetings from Ocean Park Beach California. This is the loveliest place I have ever seen in all my life. Talk about scenery, it is simply grand!"
On the 1930 census in los Angeles it shows that Barnett Simms is occupied as a compositor for a printing company along with his son Hilliard.
Man of great integrity
"Solomon, my grandfather , though not much formally educated was an upright man of great integrity. Never ever wealthy and died in Highlands house, Cape town home for the aged, with no assets of his own. In his time he tried various means of making a living, from semester to utility corner cafe/ I think in your language drug store owner, to carter, which business my father took over once a truck was eventually acquired, (previously horse and cart) and when he became old and infirm, my mother ran the cartage from our house as my father had a daytime job, (as department head and buyer at M.Bloch and Co., wholesalers. (His expert specialty being ladies foundation undergarments.)
Such was Solomons integrity that when a business group of his contemporaries wanted to throw auction bid sat the king's warehouse in the harbour by him making fake bids on their behalf, thereby securing unto himself the groups cartage on his cart from our harbor to town, he refused to comply and so was denied the carting business that would have flowed his way and which he could not really afford to abandon.
Once in a cafe shop phase, a fellow, (brown skinned), came in for a milkshake and was duly served. On being handed back the empty glass my grandfather commenced cleaning it, when this fellow's brother , (a white skinned chap) , came in wanting a milkshake and having seen this procedure with the very same , now cleaned glass, said in a loud bombastic voice, "How can you let me drink out of a coloured's glass?!" and started a big scene. this discrimination , both against another, , and yet one's own brother so incensed my grandfather that though he needed all the business he could get, he took the fellow by the collar and backside and physically threw him out of the shop telling him never to put his foot into it ever again!!!
Through his years grandfather would attend many different meetings around town, (then the poor man's entertainment in an age before much money or TV. and all the other modern day distractions. Some of these were religious debates, ( I even have a new testament printed in of all languages, Yiddish, which he would quickly refer to while in hot debate arguing his point therefrom.) So it was somewhat fitting in a strange sort of way that when he died the nuns of St. Mary's Cathedral came to tell my father that they said a special mass for my grandfather as a mark of recognition and deep respect. (remember we were not Catholic, quite the contrary). He was something of an unblinkered person of free thought."
-cousin Raphael of Cape Town, "the peeled African"